Folk that fell off the cliff


By Paula Crossfield

Is it possible for the singular thing that we as New Yorkers often wish we could avoid — noise — to give us the freedom of escape? On Tuesday, January 29th at Mercury Lounge, I will be testing this theory when Six Organs of Admittance, the avant-folk band and brainchild of Ben Chasny (Comets on Fire), rolls into town. There promises to be something for everyone: noise addicts can feed their habit and folk freaks can rock side to side with feathers in their hair.

On his latest album, “Shelter from the Ash” (Drag City), Chasny combines soft, established textures, cut with an intermittent, demonstrative guitar crunch, and experimental instruments like “piano innards” and Amazon field recordings. Sometimes repetition lulls the listener into a trance, other times things get foggy and electric and we are sprung into a spacey din of drone. The music swells and then recedes, creating a sound wave that culminates unpredictably into cacophony or calm. Though it is not for the frail, it might put a baby to sleep. Go figure.

A guitar duo will be the extent of the live show, made up of Chasny and his companion, Elisa Ambrogio, known for her work with the band Magik Marker. Chasny’s vocals are no longer just incidental. One can speculate that the love of a good woman is the reason for the new articulation. Or perhaps he has more to say now that, as he said in a recent interview, “I guess I kind of give a [damn] about humanity a little more.”

Improvisation is what keeps Chasny’s music fresh. When I asked him what kind of show we have to look forward to, he admitted, “I have to deal with just doing what is right at the moment. So I might be flailing around or perfectly still, but if I premeditate that then it would be false.” The duo will also play a few older songs from the ten or so varied albums Chasny has put out since 1998.

It is rare to see exceptional bands in intimate settings in Lower Manhattan anymore, since the close of great small venues like Tonic and Rothko. Mercury Lounge offers just that kind of space; small but with an open, clear sound. This is a good opportunity to take respite with a soft-spoken Californian who is not afraid to challenge you aurally, and to support a pint-sized space that could someday be sucked into the über-development occurring all around it in the Lower East Side.